Yellowstone River Trout Fishing
By: Bob Zaiglan
All I saw was a brilliant golden streak below the surface of the scotch-colored water before my mind registered that a malicious attack on my grizzly hackle fly was aborted by a cutthroat. I was on my favorite river in Montana, the Yellowstone, in one of the most scenic places on the planet, Paradise Valley. It was the first week of July, and my wife Jan and I returned to visit the quaint western town of Livingston where we could check out the housing market, hoping to make the friendly city on the river our summer home. More importantly, I would be on the Yellowstone River trout fishing, tempting its colorful inhabitants with my hand-tied flies.
Following an early morning departure from San Antonio on July 5 and a short delay in Minneapolis, we were enjoying a mid-day burger at Bob’s in downtown Bozeman. Shortly after obtaining a trout fishing license and purchasing some fly tying materials that are hard to find back home in Texas, we headed east on I-90 to Livingston, which would be home for the next four days.
My excitement on the first morning was dampened somewhat when a heavy rainstorm at Gardiner generated several mudslides, creating murky water. Considered less than desirable trout fishing conditions, I found myself alone on the blue-ribbon trout stream. With a number twelve black wooly bugger attached to my tippet and a pheasant tail nymph serving as a drop, I worked the shoreline casting upriver and watched my colorful strike indicator nearly six feet from the wooly bugger float undisturbed downriver hoping for it to come to a jerky, abrupt halt. It wasn’t long before I found some hungry trout, but the first two snapped my leader, while the third solid strike resulted in an 18-inch colorful rainbow. I worked nearly a mile-long stretch of water the remainder of the morning, but only caught a half dozen aggressive whitefish. Now to the locals, smoked whitefish is a palatable fish, but they were not what I traveled 1700 miles to catch, even though their abundance is an indicator of a quality trout fishery.
The following refreshingly cool day was spent in the friendly western town of Big Timber in Sweet Grass County. While Jan checked out the local shops, I stopped in on the local fly shop and struck up a conversation with one of the helpful local guides who informed me about some great trout fishing on Boulder Creek, a tributary to the Yellowstone located only minutes outside of town.
Later that evening, I hiked through a beautiful, deer-infested cottonwood bottom paralleling the ‘rock laden river’ before arriving at a long stretch of deep, swiftly running water with trout engulfing flies at the surface.
With a size 18 grizzly-hackled dry on my line, I gently laid the fly into the trout-infested waters, and although the tiny fly was difficult to see, the unmistakable rush of water generated by trout at the surface was exhilarating. And before I knew it, a nice sized brown trout virtually exited the water as it engulfed my presentation. It was a wonderfully enjoyable evening as trout fed at the surface for close to an hour and were more than willing to take my fly.
Strong winds the following day kept me off the Yellowstone, but that would change on Saturday, our last day.
With placid conditions and crystal clear water on Saturday, my last day, I started out with a chubby chernobyl with the grizzly hackled dry fly drifting along its side and noticed several trout making a run at the small fly only to veer off before engulfing it. As the explosive action at the surface escalated, I decided to remove the larger, inhibitive fly pattern, and that did the trick as a beautifully-colored cutthroat engulfed my fly. It was intense until 11:30 when trout activity came to an abrupt halt, and so did my trip on the longest running, undammed river in the U.S. surrounded by numerous tributaries full of one of Montana’s most valuable renewable resource—its trout.
When it comes to real estate, everyone knows it’s all about location, but when it comes to trout fishing, particularly a quality experience, it’s all about access, and the Montana Fish and Game Department has provided their trout fishing constituents with ample opportunity to fish some of the most bountiful trout waters on the planet, with the Yellowstone being one of the best.